You are the company you keep.

This past weekend was spent with five of my good friends in Acadia National Park in Maine. We are from all over the country (Baltimore, Des Moines, DC, Seattle, Richmond, and Philadelphia), but we have such a strong friendship that we make it a point to get together at least once a year. This group of friends, who I worked with my first year out of college, have come to be one of the most important tribes I am a part of. Every time we get together I leave with a new perspective on the world, I feel motivated to be better, and have learned something new. If you’ve listened to the Tim Ferriss Show podcast, then you’ve surely heard him give the advice: “You are the average of the five people  you surround yourself with most.” As I was reflecting on my trip to Acadia with my friends, this quote came to mind, which led me to think of another text I had read on friendship.

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics he discusses all topics that he believes are important for living a good life. Of the ten chapters devoted to the book, there are two chapters devoted to discussing friendships. From Aristotle’s view, there are three types of friendship: usefulness, pleasure, and virtue. Here is some of what he has to say on the three types: “Now, when the motive of the affection is usefulness, the partners do not feel affection for one another per se but in terms of the good accruing to each from the other. The same is also true of those whose friendship is based on pleasure: we love witty people not for what they are, but for the pleasure they give us. Friendship of young people seems to be based on pleasure. As they advance in years, different things come to be pleasant for them. Hence they become friends quickly and just as quickly cease to be friends.” He goes on to discuss the third type: “The perfect form of friendship is that between good people who are alike in excellence or virtue. For these friends wish alike for one another’s good because they are good people, and they are good per se, (that is, their goodness is something intrinsic, not incidental). Those who wish for their friends’ good for their friends’ sake are friends in the truest sense, since their attitude is determined by what their friends are and not by incidental considerations. Hence their friendship lasts as long as they are good, and goodness or virtue is a thing that lasts.”

So what does all this mean for us? It means we should be keenly aware of the types of friendships that we hold. For those based on goodness/virtue/excellence, arete, as the Greek’s called it, are friendships that should be held in high regard and cultivated over time. Having deep relationships rooted in goodness or virtue, be they romantic or platonic, will be the ones that help us to lead a more enriching and successful life.


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